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International 18s in the 1950s

by Frank Quealey 4 May 23:02 PDT

Following the first major change in the 18 footers from the big boats of the early 1900s to the 7ft beam boats of the mid-1930s, there had been no major change or innovations until the late 1940s - probably due mainly to the uncertain times being experienced throughout the world from the late 1930s to early 1940s.

It was only the need to cut costs, and increase fleet size in the mid-1940s, that led to the reduction of beam size from 7ft to 6ft.

When the changes finally began they came in the most unlikely manner, from a New Zealand skipper named Jack Logan with his father's 50-year-old design plan.

In 1950 Logan built a round bilge skimmer, named Komutu, with a transom bow based on the fifty-year-old design, but he didn't want to be associated with the newly-formed Auckland 18 Footer Flying Squadron because of his dislike for the publicity and the sail insignia on the 18s. His boat, however, was far better than every other boat in the New Zealand 18 footer fleet and it was critical for the event's credibility to have Komutu in the 1950 World Championship.

When the racing finally got under way, Komutu dominated the contest, finishing 13 minutes ahead of the second-placed boat in Race 1, then won Race 2 by more than 6 half minutes to clinch the title. The event was a public relations success for the new club and led to skimmer boats being built in Auckland in anticipation of the 1951 World Championship being held on Sydney Harbour.

Logan led the New Zealand team at the 1951 worlds in a new round-nosed skimmer, named Tarua, but right from the beginning of the championship, Bill Barnett's Myra Too was the only boat likely to win the regatta.

Myra Too won Race 1 by a convincing 4m27s then backed the win with another 2mins victory in Race 2. With the series already won, Race 3 was sailed in a stronger breeze and Myra Too was once again unbeatable and finished nearly 2 half minutes ahead of Tarua to make the 1951 worlds victory official. Logan conceded "Myra Too was in a class by herself."

At the request of the Royal Suva Yacht Club, the worlds governing body agreed to allow the 1952 World Championship to be staged in Fiji.

The current Australian champion Jenny IV (Norman Wright Jr) led a two-boat team from Queensland and Jack Logan's Tarua led the four boats representing Auckland. A notable absentee from the New Zealand team was the first moulded veneer 18, Daniel Boone, which was built too late to contest the full selection trials.

Canterbury, on the South Island of New Zealand, entered the World Championship for the first time with a radical cedar-planked boat, named Intrigue, which was skippered by Peter Mander. Intrigue had sailed earlier in the season at Auckland but when she arrived in Fiji she had a new rotating mast, a bigger sail plan, a new set of sails and trapeze wires, plus other modifications.

Fiji's four-boat team was led by Bob Percy's Talei, which was a new skimmer built by Percy to a slightly modified Komutu design.

Race 1 of the championship was sailed on Suva Harbour. Race 2 was then sailed in a light breeze on Laucala Bay and produced a duel between Intrigue and Jenny IV with the lead changing several times throughout the course. Intrigue raced with a crew of just four, including two on trapeze, and carried her biggest working sails, which measured around 500 square feet.

Going into the final race, Intrigue held the championship lead over Tarua and Jenny IV which created so much interest in the outcome that the race was broadcast on shortwave by Fijian Radio ZJV and re-broadcast by all New Zealand national radio stations.

Intrigue became the 1952 champion.

Following the regatta, the world controlling body agreed that in future it would conduct the World Championship every two years, and the next contest was scheduled for Auckland in early 1954.

The 1954 regatta had a fleet of fourteen boats, representing NSW, Queensland, Auckland, Canterbury and Fiji, and included a variety of designs. The Australian team were planked skiffs, built as lightly as technology allowed, some gaff, some marconi-rigged, and pushing the boundaries of accepted skiff design. Both New Zealand and Fiji featured the latest examples of their planked skimmers.

In the New Zealand team there were new super-lightweight moulded veneer hulls, featuring innovation and technology ideas taken from the aerospace industry and the two-man trapeze system used at Suva in 1952 had also been refined by the New Zealanders. Their boats now had two or three permanent trapeze men. Defending champion, Intrigue had three on trapeze and, incredibly, a fourth man lying out on top of a trapeze man.

Peter Mander and his Intrigue team won each of the first two races of the three-race regatta to secure the championship and become the first to successfully defend the world title.

Advances in technology during the 1950s had a dramatic effect on sailing and Australians quickly learned that the moulded veneer building techniques, and trapeze, had accelerated development. Norman Wright Jr built a three-skin moulded hull, named Jenny VI, and became Queensland's first world champion after winning the 1956 regatta on Brisbane's Waterloo Bay.

Sydney's Len Heffernan dominated championships of the late 1950s with wins in the 1958 World Championship (Jantzen Girl III) as well as the Australian Championships in 1958-59 (Jantzen Girl IV) and 1959-60 (Jantzen Girl V).

After the 1958 World Championship, Queensland and New Zealand moved to abandon the minimum beam for international competition. In New Zealand, two boats were built with beams less than 6ft; Rhythm was a hard chine hull and Ace-Hi, a double chine hull.

Even greater drama was about to come in the winter of 1959 when the Brisbane club asked Norman Wright Jr to look at designing a cheap, easy to build 18 footer as a means of helping to rebuild the club's fleet. Wright and sailmaker Bob Miller (later known as Ben Lexcen) discussed the possible form the new boat should take and, because both had been sailing a Flying Dutchman, were aware of the upwind capabilities of the FD.

The result, named Taipan, was a light, low wooded chine 6ft beam ply hull, two-thirds decked, a three-man crew, and an inboard rig with a large overlapping genoa, part 18 footer, part Flying Dutchman and part Sharpie.

According to Wright, the hull was his concept and the rig was Miller's. It looked nothing like an 18 had previously looked, but it did comply with the definition of an open boat, according to the Board of Control, and was also cheap to build.

The new design would evolve and have a dramatic effect on the 18 footer class in the 1960s.

DON'T FORGET: Video coverage of all the racing action from the Winnings 2024 JJ Giltinan Championship and all the club's racing throughout the entire Australian 18 Footers League's 2023-24 season is available on the following link:

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